Mon, 27 May, 2019

Labour day: An exercise in vanity

It is indeed sad that while the working-class is extended importance during polls, a lack of political will prevents an amicable solution to the woes of the workers

13th May 2019, 02:54 Hrs

PACHU MENON

As trade unions across India celebrated May Day by holding public rallies and meetings in various cities and towns, it would not be wrong to assume that May 1st as the International Labour Day is fast losing its commemorative value with every passing year as the entire gamut of celebrations has reduced to a mere formality. With leaders and workmen alike treating the whole show as a perfunctory affair, the momentousness of the occasion appears to have lost its relevance. As with all other Indianized catchphrases, ‘Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas’ too has been a misnomer for as commendatory a day as one purporting to highlight the trials and tribulations of that class of society which has been struggling to justify its existence for decades. The first to be affected by disasters brought about by governments galloping towards unviable developmental goals unmindful of the economic consequences, the working class has always stoically borne the brunt of harsh decisions. 

 Labour unions formed to safeguard the workers’ interests, ensure them safer working environments and guarantee a secured life for their families are however seen treading a political path no sooner they are established. 

With prominent political parties also advocating labour solidarity movements in the country, one would have thought that the working class was in for better days ahead. But how have the frequent spate of strikes, hartals and bandhs called for by various political dispensations to augment their ideological pursuits and ‘settle’ scores with rivals served the cause of the working class! 

Kerala as an example of a state which has correlated concepts of trade unionism with every aspect of ‘activism’ conceivable finds itself helpless to shrug off the effects adversely affecting the daily lives of its citizens. A very fertile media for such political shenanigans, God’s Own Country is exasperated at the possibilities of a dawn-to-dusk shut-down of the entire state being called every time a particular politically affiliated group or association wants to prove or drive home a point. For a state that is so conscious about the rights of its working-class, it is astonishing to have such acts that deprive the daily-wage worker of a day’s earning being endorsed without reservation whatsoever! 

However, notwithstanding the high level of literacy that Kerala is known for, confusing ideas on communism and socialism continues to engage the Malayalis in a struggle that only serves to serve the cause of political parties. 

Bengal under the ‘Didi-regime’ has not fared any better, preferring to slip into its inherent ‘communist’ traditions whenever there is an impasse over any issue! It is really unfortunate that in spite of realizing that the vast availability of resources in the form of votes has undoubtedly been attracting political parties to align themselves with their unions, the working class has never managed to keep away politicians from their associations. 

Just as the ungainly presence of party colours in college campuses has been a cause of worry for the academians, so also has ‘political association’ of trade unions to enhance their bargaining prowess reduced them to being mere tools of various political dispensations. 

Labour unions as organizations formed by workers from related fields that concern themselves with the common interest of its members can only work to their full potential if they maintain their own individuality and uniqueness. For who better can understand their grievances than the workers themselves! Initiating dialogues with the management to resolve their issues, the union bodies do not require a third-party to negotiate on their behalf. If it is the powerful presence of the political parties they depend on to cow down any opposition to submission, they need to realize that no management likes to give into the bullying tactics of political parties. Ultimately it is the workers who suffer! 

The advantages of ‘outsourcing’ finds favour with most business establishments. As a cost-cutting measure, this strategy has today become integral in business economics. However, referred to as an unethical labour practice, persistent demands by labour unions to abolish contract labour system in the country appear to have fallen on deaf ears. 

The Ministry of Labour had initiated exercises to register over 47 crore unorganized sector workers and provide them with the Unorganized Worker Index Number (UWIN) Card and bringing them under the social security net much before elections were announced. If, at the insistence of the PM, the vast unorganized that we call ‘daily-wage earners’ is being introduced to the social security system and extended benefits, the fact that the government is not oblivious to the hardships of the working class is more than obvious! 

Yet it is dismaying that the working-class continues to languish at the bottom of the list of priorities for the government. Just as the common man, the daily-wage earner becomes a ‘mascot’ for politicians to be hoisted around as an exhibit of the government’s apathy during elections – and to be forgotten in equally fast time once they are over! 

Hence, it came as quite a surprise that not a single candidate in the state bothered to raise labour issues in their poll manifestos. It is indeed a sad commentary of affairs in the country that while the working-class is extended importance during polls by our leaders, it is a lack of political will that prevents an amicable solution to the woes of the workers! Has the working-class too learnt to compromise with the situation and come to accept that it is a lost cause as far it is concerned?

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